Backwards Wheel Helm... duh... what? - SailNet Community

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Old 04-29-2009
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Backwards Wheel Helm... duh... what?

In my discovery of the many traditional type sailing boats out there I sometimes come across boats with a wheel helm facing aft in the cockpit. Is there a name for this arrangement and are there any bona fide Sailnet opinions about it's usefulness.

Obviously, it gives more space in the cockpit, just as obviously it requires all steering be done from one side or the other, or with front view mirrors.

Counter to many out there, I prefer a wheel to a tiller, I think I could get used to an aft facing nav station, but this helm configuration seems to me would be handicapped in heavy weather; looks good but might as well have a tiller, I'm thinking.

If I'm wrong I want to know because the traditional aesthetics of the thing is starting to grow on me and I want to nip it in the bud if it's not seaworthy. I see a few beautiful boats set up this way, that otherwise hold my interest.

Do you have to be ambidextrous to helm these boats?

Anyone out there with blue water miles using this reverse wheel helm... whatcha callums?
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Old 04-29-2009
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It was a pretty standard design on a lot of older boats, and made installation of the steering system far simpler. It isn't really any more difficult to steer with than a standard wheel, since, in many cases, you're not standing behind the wheel anyways.
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Old 04-29-2009
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What you are describing derives from the earliest and most primative steering systems which used a worm gear (effectively a big screw) to move the rudder. These early 'patent' steering systems were inherently slow and very high friction. They made sense on big ships but were a little dangerous on smaller sailing vessels where quicker manuevers than can be accomplished by spinning the wheel a turn or two are sometimes a matter of safely. These systems have absolutely no feel at at all but then again the rudder stays exactly where you left it.

Later these worm screw patent steering systems were replaced by geared quadrants. Geared quadrants were a reasonably good system providing some feel and less wheel turns per angular turn of the rudder. The shortcoming of these geared quadrant was that alignment and spacing between the pinion on the wheel shaft and the quadrant was very critical and they were notorious for losing alignment and failing at inopportune moments. (Read Jack London's Cruise of the Snark if you want to see how wrong one of these systems can go).

The way that larger traditional watercraft were sailed there was nothing inherently wrong a wheel mounted in a wheel box. In a good design, you basically could lean against the wheel box and brace yourself as you steered. In the worst cases you are slumped over and its really hard on your back.

Jeff
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Any Names come to Mind?

It seems the nautical world has a name for every thing and every variation. Is there some salty term for this backwards helm setup?

Any opinions on this arrangement for crossing oceans, or are captains pretty neutral on the issue. I guess it's only an issue if the vane-steering and/or autopilot fail. But what if...

The boats I'm looking at are fiberglass and were designed and built in the 19, seventies and eighties, classic styling yes, but not old.

I really like the room it gives to the cockpit, but might miss the pedestal and its compass.
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Old 04-29-2009
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Of course, you could replace any configuration you wanted to with hydraulics and could melt down the quadrant into a hundred little bronze baby shoes.
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Old 04-30-2009
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My boat has that setup. I've only daysailed her so far, ocean cruise is next month. She's not slow to respond, a couple of visiting sailors were recently amazed how well she handles. It is a little inconvenient to sit next to it and steer, there's not much clearance around the spokes. Or maybe my legs are just too long.
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Many Island Packets are set up this way! It is more common on full keel boats with skeg hung rudders.
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Many solid cruising boats have been built with this steering system, which uses a pinion and large quadrant gear. Earlier Island Packets and most Allieds come to mind as using this system. It is about as fail-proof as you can get, with no cables, pulleys, chains, or linkages to break. The tradeoff for strength and simplicity is a loss of responsiveness in the helm and, as you noted, the awkwardly positioned steering wheel. Some newer cruising boats such as Pacific Seacraft use a pedestal system with a smaller gear quadrant built in, which offers most of the strength and simplicity benefits without the odd wheel.
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Old 05-09-2009
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QUOTE=flashingbrine;481811] The tradeoff for strength and simplicity is a loss of responsiveness in the helm and, as you noted, the awkwardly positioned steering wheel.[/QUOTE]

WRONG--just as responsive if not more so than a pedistal setup, no chains, no pully's just a direct gear tied directly to the rudder, so you move the wheel and the rudder moves instantly. The biggest pain is hooking up a rudder reference sensor for an autopilot!
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Old 05-10-2009
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martinini View Post
QUOTE=flashingbrine;481811] The tradeoff for strength and simplicity is a loss of responsiveness in the helm and, as you noted, the awkwardly positioned steering wheel.
WRONG--just as responsive if not more so than a pedistal setup, no chains, no pully's just a direct gear tied directly to the rudder, so you move the wheel and the rudder moves instantly. The biggest pain is hooking up a rudder reference sensor for an autopilot![/QUOTE]

My claim is not that there is some sort of delay between moving the wheel and a corresponding movement in the rudder. The rudder moves right along with the wheel, as is the case with any steering system I have used or can imagine. Because it is just a massive gear, however, you don't get any sort of feedback from the rudder. If you turn the wheel and let go, it generally stays in place, for example. Most pedestal systems will try to move back to the center on their own, just like a tiller. With a forward-facing setup, you need to know where the center position is and turn it back yourself...you simply get no feedback at all. It is a significant difference, and it will be very apparent upon sailing two boats using the different systems.
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